“ You can choose to look the other way but you never again can say you did not know”. - William Wilberforce
Ever have a moment that stops you in your tracks and you know your life just changed? Maybe it was when a baby was born, when you meet your life partner, you get a phone call that changes everything, you get or lose job you love.
For me, it was Thursday, October 3rd, 2019. That day I knew my life wouldn’t be the same ever again. Back track to August 2018. I was in Mexico with @caringheartsmexico and a team of my best friends came down with me to help build a house for a woman I love with all my heart. Her name is Isabel, she cooks for our teams who come down to San Luis. The land lot she bought was in a part of the city near the city dump, where people live and work. The area is underdeveloped, with water and electricity still scarce. The house beside her lot was a home where gang members/ drug addicts live. They run drugs in and out of the house that looks like something out of a horror movie, just piles and piles of garbage.
I will never forget my fear for Isabel. Every day we would build, and every day the neighbors would steal what we build overnight. Taking down the wall framing and stealing the wood. I was desperate to talk to the men. But I promised all my fellow staff that I wouldn’t, since it was too dangerous.
One day, I was standing on the dirt road on the phone while the team was working. My gaze was on the house. I saw a little girl peak out from being a pile of garbage. I waved at her. She ran to me. 2 other older girls came running out after her. I hugged them all. The mom ran out and we began to talk. I asked her if they were safe and she said no, but the only way they could eat and have somewhere to sleep is if they “stayed” with the men.
The next day I picked up the girls and brought them to our soup kitchen to play for the day. They were so thankful. Sweet, kind, innocent girls, we we knew had seen and experienced too much.
I lost contact with the girls. They were not at the home when I went back.
Fast forward to a year later, August 2019. One night our team was going to the dump where Caring Hearts gives clean water and ice to those who live and work there. The dump had been lit on fire, burning a section of the garbage so there was alot of smoke. I left the team by the car as a few of us went out to tell the people there that we had come to give out bags of beans and some clean clothes. As I am walking, I see my friend Jillan holding the hand of a little girl. She yelled my name and ran to me. It was Jemimah, the little girl from the house. Her two sisters were not far behind. My heart broke. After the program I asked if I could see their house. They innocently and proudly took me to their “house”. Sticks, string and blankets on a pile of garbage. There was a man in there. I shook his hand. I asked him if I could help his girls. He replied “you can have them if you want”. I had to leave because I had no where to take them. Legally if I took them it could be kidnapping. The next day we sent one of the staff to go look for them. They were no where to be found.
Then, a month later I came with a team. We went into the dump. I got out of the van and saw my 3 little girls standing at the top of the hill. They screamed my name and came running to me. We sat and talked. Their skin was black with dirt. Only one had on real shoes, and they were too small. Their clothes were torn. Their hair matted. Jemimah had a cut on her leg. Flies were crawling in it and she didnt even notice. She grabbed my hand and smiled. Naomi, the oldest, gave me a bracelet she had found. I gave her my hair tie in exchange. Jemimah tapped me on my shoulder and said, “do you have a house?” I said yes. She said, “ Do you have a mom?” I said yes but she doesn’t live at my house. She said “me too, my mom left us” I hugged her. She said “Can I live at your house?”. I walked back to her “house”, the hut made in the garbage. I asked her dad if I could pick them up in the morning. He said yes. At 9 AM I pulled into the dump and they were waiting. They got in my car. We went to Oasis boys home and they came upstairs to the missionary house where the team was. They were shy. When I told them they could take a shower and I gave them a bag of toiletries I bought, their faces lit up. They showered, ate cereal and came to church. They were just like the other kids, singing playing laughing. When I took them back after church, they didn’t want to leave. Naomi, the oldest asked me if they could live with me. I said I didn’t have a place for them to live with me, but that I knew of a safe place they could go. I asked if they ate every day, they said sometimes. I asked if they go to school. They said no.
On Monday, I went to the City Child Protective services, the DIF. I told them the story. They said they would call me. They never did. On Thursday I went back to the DIF. I said I would wait there until someone came with me to get the girls from the dump. Two workers went with me after an hour of waiting. We drove into the dump. I got out and told them it would be a 5 minute walk to the hut, and they said they would wait in the car. They didn’t want to get their shoes dirty.
After a few minutes of walking, I saw Naomi. She lit up, she turned around, ran to get her sisters and they ran to me and jumped on me. Jemimah put a dirty necklace around my neck. She said she was waiting for me, she wanted me to have a necklace so every day I remember her. I told them I had two friends with me who could help them. We walked back to the car and when we got there, the DIF workers got out and immediately started snapping photos of them. They hid and Naomi started to cry. She had been taken by the DIF before to an orphanage where she was abused. She said she ran from it and thats why they live in the dump. Jemimah grabbed my hand and cried. This is the moment that broke me. I had no option. Leaving them in the dump meant a life of abuse neglect and danger. But If I took them to the DIF, there was not a safe home for them to go. They would be in an orphanage run by the city with 80 or more kids, or taken to the other orphanage where they would be abused. Naomi and the girls ran and hid. I talked to their dad. He promised to bring them to the DIF on Monday at 9:30.
Driving away from the dump, sitting helpless in the back of the DIF car. This is the feeling I had that my life wouldn't be the same. That I no longer have the option of living a life without the knowledge that there are 3 little girls sleeping and hiding in a garbage dump and that there is no place in San Luis to truly help them. Something has to change.
On Monday, he didn’t show up. I was back in Nashville but I already knew that there was nothing that would stop me from helping them. I asked the DIF what would happen, they kept saying they would get the girls but no one was making progress. Monday to Thursday I checked plane tickets daily. I felt sick. My loved ones who I vented to said “you did all you can do”. I knew we could do more. If I was in a garbage dump, someone would come for me.
On Thursday I called Angellica, one of our staff in Mexico. I explained to her where they were. On Friday, I got a FaceTime from Angellica… with the girls! They were in the car, on the way to live with dear friends of Caring Hearts, one of the Mexican board members and his wife. They are now our first Caring Hearts foster family.
This is the start of something new. Today, we start planning and raising funds, doing research, and getting ready for a shelter for girls. Today we start to decide that it is unacceptable for young girls in Mexico to be told that they don’t get the basic necessities of life due to the situation they were born into. Today we start to fight so the girls in Mexico have the freedom to be leaders, chase their dreams, and live their purposes out.
We need your help! We can’t do this alone. If you are interested in being a part of helping the young women in Mexico, email email@example.com to be a part of the dream and mission.
After first hearing about Caring Hearts Ministry through Stateside Coordinator Natalie Hennessey in 2017, she wanted to do more. She was looking for an organization to present at the Grand Opening of NoBaked and has been donating and visiting San Luis ever since!
The first time I heard about Caring Hearts was from Natalie Hennessy. At the time, Natalie was an acquaintance of mine that I didn't know much about, except for the fact that she went to the same college as me and now worked for a non-profit. Natalie texted me one day in the summer of 2017 and asked if I would grab coffee with her to chat about event planning. At this point, I was just getting started with my own business, NoBaked Cookie Dough. I had started selling edible cookie dough at various events and at pop-up shops around Nashville. When I met up with Natalie, she told me that she thought she could do the same thing with Caring Hearts. I told her everything I knew about events and pop-ups and then we went our separate ways.
A couple of months later, NoBaked had gotten to the point of opening up our very first brick and mortar shop. I wanted to have some kind of charity present at the Grand Opening event and Caring Hearts was the first thing that came to mind. On the day of the grand opening, Natalie brought her Caring Hearts pop-up tent and some material about all the programs that the non-profit could help. That was the first time that I actually learned about what Caring Hearts does. I was immediately intrigued by the cause and amazed at how passionate Natalie and her team of volunteers and interns were about it. It was hard to ignore it when so many people cared so much about it.
For the next year and a half, we've teamed up with Caring Hearts for numerous events, including their Music City Masquerade. I've always felt like NoBaked could be part of things bigger than itself, and Caring Hearts has been the perfect cause for us to really make a difference. Once Natalie and I became better friends, she would basically ask me every couple of weeks, "So when are you and Jimmy going to come on a trip to Mexico with us?" After consistently saying no because of not being able to leave work for a full 7 days, Natalie approached us with a 4-day trip that was impossible to say no to. In July of this year, we made the trip down to San Luis for the first time.
The trip itself was eye-opening, to say the least. While in San Luis, we went to the Oasis Boys Home, the garbage dump, the city orphanage, the immigrant shelter, the soup kitchen, the life center and to visit a couple of shut-in families. Along the way, Natalie would tell us how much money it took to run each program or to feed each child, or to build a house for a homeless family. That's the point where I realized that all of the work that's done here in Nashville and all of the money that's raised at the events that we have has a tremendous impact on the lives of people in this community. The money goes so far and the amount of people helping to make San Luis a better place is astonishing. Some parts of the trip were tough. The garbage dump is shocking to see because even the poorest people in the United States don't live the way these people do. The orphanage had babies that had just been born and seemed like they'd be impossible to give up.
Through all of the bad and the tough things to witness, though, the trip was one of the most fun times of my life. The simple act of playing soccer with the Oasis boys brought them a joy that I just don't see anyone have here in the U.S., even though we have so much. The men at the life center have devoted their lives to sobriety and are so thankful to have a simple building to live in, just because they aren't stuck on the streets anymore. The kids at the soup kitchen have so much fun playing with water balloons and being fed the only meal that they'll get that day. Those were sights that made the whole entire thing worth it.
The amount of good that can be done from afar is still insane to me. It doesn't take much time or money to improve the lives of so many people in San Luis. I'm so excited to be able to play a small role in helping them. I know that I'll be a supporter for life and I hope that many other people will have the same experience with Caring Hearts that I have!
Question: What does Caring Hearts Ministry mean for you?
Hello, my name is Rosa Gonzalez – known as Rosita, I grew up in Mexico in an orphanage in San Luis, sponsored by Caring Hearts at the time. So I was always blessed by the fact the ministry was a part of my life and made it possible for me to be here right now. As a child, I am aware that the ministry was a huge part in helping to find and fund resources to be able to meet our basic needs as children and at the time they also were engaging in Pittsburgh mainly. Back in the day, they would bring missionaries from Pittsburgh before it even grew to what it is now in the present day. A lot of these missionaries Caring Hearts would bring, they were the light of growing up in an orphanage. I always say that and I will say it, again and again, my favorite part about anything to do with growing up in an orphanage, which there wasn’t a lot but if there was anything I could consider the best thing about it it was definitely the missionaries in Caring Hearts because they made it possible for me to be here, they made it possible for me to believe that there was hope that there were good people that wanted to support you, to love you and to encourage you, just because they love god. That is what love is all about. As a child, these missionaries would come and they were young, I mean 16 or 17-year-old kids and they would come. I am sure they were saving their money during the summer to be able to come on these trips and it meant the world for us as kids in the orphanage because there were many times when we would spend an entire year, 12 months, it was only during the summer we would have missionaries come in constantly, for maybe a 3 month span, in the summer and those, were the worse times in Mexico because you know the heat is crazy but you would still have these missionaries come and spend time with us. It was the only time we had as children to be able to be cuddled, to be able to be loved, to be able to be taught about the bible, you know with the VBS classes. I think that’s one of the reasons I am where I am right now, believing in God and what he has done in my life. It was definitely not me, definitely not any other resources out there. It was just the fact that people were caring and loving. That’s what Caring Hearts is to me.
Grace’s Team: 8 IUP students, 9 adults, and one 12 year old boy
Our team was greeted by Alberto and Luis, Caring Heart Ministry
staff members on Friday evening. They provided a power point
orientation describing the Caring Hearts Mexican Ministry.
Saturday, January 12 the Grace team visited their first work site,
organized 17, 40+ lb suitcases filled with tote backpacks, hats, socks,
soaps, clothing, and shoes. At 4:45 pm the team went with Alberto
to the Village Ministry mission to provide worship, praise Jesus
through songs and bless the people with Beans, Bibles, and treats.
The team attended the Sunday 10 am service at the church Pastor
Francisco preaches. The team gathered materials, prepared the area,
and made plans for their first work project; a roof for a local house in
Monday-Friday, 2-3 team members walked to the Soup Kitchen to
make a warm breakfast for the local children. The remaining team
members participated in their daily 8-8:30 devotions. After collecting
all the needed tools & materials from the Oasis workshop the team
walked to their project. The project moved along quickly, God blessed
us with a great team! The men finished the roof up in the afternoon
while the girls visited 3 shut-in families and the Women’s Rehab
Our team visited Shut-ins throughout the week: a family of 11 children
living on their own; a bedridden widow; a very ill mother with 5 boys; a
physically challenged grandma and her 4 grand kids; a 30+ year old
bedridden women that is not only coping with her painful illness but
recovering from finding her 13 year old daughter who was kidnapped,
drugged, and came back pregnant; a young women in a wheelchair,
supporting 2 children who creates pinatas for money. We were blessed
to be able to buy 5 of her pinatas for our Thursday evening picnic for
the Caring Hearts Staff & volunteers cookout. We were also able to fill
them with candy to share with the kids from the area attending the
Soup Kitchen’s Saturday morning block party, lunch, and games.
Our team built a Corn Hole game for Oasis. We left the building design
for the boys to build more games to sale or play with.
Team members worked daily on the 1 st , 2nd roof projects and/or went on
the various outreach ministry projects. On Wednesday, we went to the
Park at 1:30 to hand out sandwiches and drinks to the homeless and
transients seeking a place to rest. Alberto blessed many with his
short sermons, and words of encouragement.
The team attended the Wednesday 6:30 pm service. Pastor Francisco
mixes his English and his Spanish so all can enjoy his amazing
message. The congregations always walks around to greet us with
open arms, many hugs, and wonderful smiles. We may not always
know everything they are saying but we definitely feel God’s presence
when we are in the church.
Thursday’s picnic is usually one of our favorite activities. We cook for
the boys, the staff and their families. We play games, sing, cook
marshmallows and hot dogs over the fire. The corn hole game was very
popular Thursday night. Two of our College girls did a great job
painting a Sunset, desert scene on the game. One of our girls brought
4 hammocks, the kids spent a lot of time playing and giggling on them.
After the Oasis Boy’s ceiling was painted and the two roof projects
were finished, we were able to do various Outreach Projects on Friday.
We took sandwiches, treats, burritos, drinks, and donation in tote bags
to the Dump site to hand out after Alberto's message and a few
songs. After leaving the Dump, we all went to the Blind Center to
worship, sing & praise, and buy handmade items. Friday afternoon
was busy visiting more shut-ins. We took all the boys, Luis (our work
project manager), Fran (boy’s house mother), Angelica (finance
coordinator), and Pena (house assistant) to a local restaurant. All 34
of us laughed, ate way too much, and wished the night could go on
forever. The boys and 5 of our college kids went to youth group at the
church after our meal.
Saturday morning, we packed early so we could go to the 9-11 am Soup
Kitchen Block Party. Our group provided face painting, fishing for
ducks, bouncing balls, bowling, hoops, balloons, and many suitcases
full of clothing, shoes, socks, hats, and purses for the kids and families
to take home.
Saying good-bye to Oasis is never easy. Tears are shed, life-changing
memories are never forgotten, life-long friendships bless us as we
solemnly drive to Phoenix and fly back to the freezing temperatures in
Pittsburgh. Our hearts warm up as we go through our phones, looking
at the Oasis boys, the children we grew to love and the passionate
adults that take care of them and each other. Thank you Caring
Hearts Ministry for everything you are doing!!!
Grace UMC Team
17 June 2019 by Natalie Hennessy.
Natalie coordinates mission trips, volunteers, sponsorships and fundraisers for Caring Hearts Ministry.
Photos by Allison Mayer Photography.
Today I was editing our website, I was writing our mission statement and without any warning, my throat got tight and I starting thinking of the families we serve
The mission of Caring Hearts Ministry is to be passionately committed to delivering hope and empowering the community of San Luis, Mexico towards real change through feeding the hungry, educating the forgotten, providing shelter and comfort to the abandoned and orphaned, rehabilitation for the addicted, care for the sick and disabled with a demonstration of love to the poor and hurting.
I think the reason I got so choked up is because as I typed it, faces flashed into my memory. Faces of the Oasis boys on days when they are hurting and struggling to do whats right after years of neglect, abuse, and learning to steal and commit crime on the streets to survive. I thought of the trauma that I see them dealing with which is something beyond their control. They are battling years being taught to fight to survive, not to trust, to fend for themselves and re-learning a whole new mindset of biblical teachings, that they are loved, that they are safe, that they are to put others before themselves. They are kids, they are supposed to be care free and innocent.
I thought of Omar. Omar gets bullied at school. He has trouble making eye contact with people when he talks. His parents abandoned him and his brothers. They were tossed around between orphanages, begged on the streets, and every year on his birthday, Christmas, graduations, etc he stands without a blood parent to claim him. He likes to be alone and it takes him a long time to trust. When I tell him I love him, I can see that he doesn’t know what to do with that. He is still learning what Christ-centered love is. I hurt for Omar.
But here is the thing, in the midst of all this pain, all this hurt, all this neglect, I find two things to be common and present in each situation. Hope and resilience.
In each of these situations that seem so dark and so horrible, I get to see something so incredible.
The Oasis Boys: They come into Oasis scared, scarred, angry, hungry, smelly, untrusting, testing their limits. Years later, we have examples of people like Luis Valenzuela and Fernando Pena. They grew up at Oasis. Now they are college educated, and working for Caring Hearts, being examples and leaders for the younger guys. They are resilient. They radiate hope.
Claudia and the shut-in families: They could not afford food, medical care, electricity, water. I have seen families whose drinking water is warm buckets on the ground, whose homes have dirt floors, broken roofs, and no lights or air conditioning in 100-degree weather. But then I see these families thriving after Ines, our leader, adopts them into the shut-in program and they are able to eat, have shelter, pray with Ines, be visited by teams ready to encourage and fix their homes, and so much more. I see their faces light up when they know Caring Hearts is coming. They tell us that they know God hears their prayers. They are resilient. They don’t let sickness and poverty stop them from being amazing mothers, fathers, sisters, families. They join together and push forward.
I see children in the dump and in the villages playing and running without shoes, smiling, enjoying their life. They don’t need fancy Nike cleats and a fully inflated ball to have fun. They play pick up soccer in the streets with a ball made of tape and they run for hours, smiling and finding community. They shine hope.
I see strength in Sonya and in the workers at the garbage dump. They search through what others threw away and they find treasures. They keep San Luis running by sorting the recyclables. They know the work is dirty, but they know that they are strong and they are important. They welcome prayers, they are thankful for the bag of beans that Caring Hearts volunteers give. They teach us about perseverance and contentment. That is hope.
We see this in the bible too. In Philippians 4:12 it says “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
As an ambassador for Caring Hearts Ministry, I get to be the connection and the bridge for those in need in Mexico, and those who are blessed in the states. I get to bring hundreds of people each year to Mexico to leave their comfortable lives and enter into the challenges of poverty. I get to see how we are all equal. How those in Mexico shine their best selves as they depend on God and His strength to get through the toughest times. I get to see Americans who are insecure, selfish, searching, discontent, bitter and unsure of their purpose let go of all dignity, pride, popularity, and status and humbly work hard to join with their brothers and sisters in a country that needs a hand up. I see them become confident in their skills, loving and self-sacrificing, content, playful, and full of joy as they wake up every day and help someone else.
It is like magic to me. Caring Hearts has taught me not to be afraid of pain, of hard times, of being in need or getting sick. It has taught me that when I or anyone in Mexico am in need, God will send someone with a caring and compassionate heart like His to stand by me and give me the help I need. And it has taught me that I have enough and I am enough to be that for someone else. We are all equally in need and equally able to offer someone something else. Hope and resilience cannot be taken from us, and cannot be drowned out by pain and by challenges of life.
If you need a dose of hope, a dose of resilience, I encourage you to get uncomfortable and dive into a situation where you can see a need and help meet it. I invite you to be a part of the Caring Hearts Ministry as a volunteer. I invite you to meet the real people I mentioned above and let them be your heroes.
To learn more about trips with Caring Hearts, email Natalie at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is Fernando Muñoz Peña. A former Oasis boy who was recently awarded a trip to study abroad in Canada from his college in San Luis. This was a huge honor and a testimony to how growing up in a loving, Christ-centered environment can change the course of one man's future. Pena was chosen out of many competitors to receive this honor and go study abroad.
When Peña was younger, he would skip school to sell candy on the streets of San Luis to make money for his brothers and his mother. He missed out on early education as well as the safety and security children need when they are young.
Pena came to Oasis as a young child, grew up and graduated from the Oasis boys home. When he left Oasis he went on to a local college in San Luis where he would come back home to Oasis to visit and help with Caring Hearts, we also had sponsors that helped support him throughout his college career.
To learn more about our education program and how you can become a part of someones story, visit our website here.
Meet Amy. She was born with a rare condition known as Tetraphocomelia; without arms or legs. After being abandoned at the hospital by her birth parents, she was adopted by faith-filled parents, Richard and Janet. Growing up, they taught her the importance of being independent and they’ve been on a lifelong journey in helping her to achieve that independence in every area possible.